Religion in Chile

Religion in Chile

Chile has a Catholic majority, with an estimated 70% of Chileans belonging to that church. According to census data other declared denominations or groupings include: Protestant or Evangelical (15.1%), Jehovah's Witnesses (1%), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (0.9%), Jewish (0.1%), Atheist or Agnostic (8.3%), and other (4.4%). Less than 0.1% are either Orthodox or Muslim. The official data is made by the National Bureau of Statistics ("Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Chile"). The last census is from 2002. [ [ INE 2002 Census data] .]


According to the most recent census (2002), 70 percent of the population over age 14 identify as Roman Catholic and 15.1 percent as evangelical. In the census, the term "evangelical" referred to all non-Catholic Christian churches with the exception of the Orthodox Church (Greek, Persian, Serbian, Ukrainian, and Armenian), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Approximately 90 percent of evangelicals are Pentecostal. Wesleyan, Lutheran, Reformed Evangelical, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Methodist churches are also present.cite web
title=Chile - International Religious Freedom Report 2008
work=United States Department of State

Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Baha'is, Buddhists, and members of the Unification Church. Of those surveyed, all other religions total 493,147 persons, or 4.4 percent, and atheists and those "indifferent" regarding religion constitute approximately 8.3 percent.

Indigenous people make up 5 percent (780,000) of the population. Sixty-five percent of indigenous people identify themselves as Catholic, 29 percent as evangelical, and 6 percent as "other." Mapuche communities, constituting 87 percent of indigenous citizens, continue to respect traditional religious leaders (Longkos and Machis), and anecdotal information indicates a high degree of syncretism in worship and traditional healing practices.

Members of the largest religious groups (Catholic, Pentecostal, and other evangelical churches) are numerous in the capital and are also found in other regions of the country. Jewish communities are located in Santiago, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Valdivia, Temuco, Concepción, La Serena, and Iquique (although there is no synagogue in Iquique). Mosques are located in Santiago, Iquique, and Coquimbo.

Legal/policy framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Church and state are officially separate. The 1999 law on religion prohibits religious discrimination; however, the Catholic Church enjoys a privileged status and occasionally receives preferential treatment. Government officials attend Catholic events and also major Protestant and Jewish ceremonies.

The Government observes Christmas, Good Friday, the Feast of the Virgin of Carmen, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Feast of the Assumption, All Saints' Day, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as national holidays.

The law allows any religious group to apply for legal public right status (comprehensive religious nonprofit status). The Ministry of Justice may not refuse to accept a registration petition, although it may object to the petition within 90 days on the grounds that all legal prerequisites for registration have not been satisfied. The petitioner then has 60 days to address objections raised by the Ministry or challenge the Ministry in court. Once a religious entity is registered, the state cannot dissolve it by decree. The semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review; however, no organization that has registered under the 1999 law has subsequently been deregistered.

In addition, the law allows religious entities to adopt a charter and by-laws suited to a religious organization rather than a private corporation. They may establish affiliates (schools, clubs, and sports organizations) without registering them as separate corporations.

During the period covered by this report 516 religious organizations registered under the 1999 law and gained legal public right status, bringing the total to 1,659 registered religious groups.Publicly subsidized schools are required to offer religious education twice a week through high school; participation is optional (with parental waiver). Religious instruction in public schools is almost exclusively Catholic. Teaching the creed requested by parents is mandatory; however, enforcement is sometimes lax, and religious education in faiths other than Catholicism is often provided privately through Sunday schools and at other venues. Local school administrations decide how funds are spent on religious instruction. Although the Ministry of Education has approved curriculums for 14 other denominations, 92 percent of public schools and 81 percent of private schools offered only Catholic instruction. Parents may homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools for religious reasons.

Restrictions on religious freedom

According to a United States government report, the Chilean government generally respected religious freedom in practice.

The 1999 law on religion grants other religions and denominations the same right that the Catholic Church possesses to have chaplains in public hospitals, prisons, and military units. Hospital regulations continue specifically to permit Catholic chaplains in hospitals, and if requested by a patient, to provide access to chaplains and lay practitioners of other religions. There were 35 Catholic chapels, 40 paid Catholic chaplains, 25 volunteer Catholic chaplains, and 1,200 religious or lay volunteers authorized to conduct Catholic religious activities in the prison system. There were approximately 9 paid evangelical Christian chaplain positions at the national level, 90 volunteer chaplains, and more than 1,200 evangelical Christian volunteers representing 82 evangelical denominations conducting religious activities in the prison system. Non-Catholic pastors reported that their access to prisons and hospitals continued to improve during 2007/2008.

The celebration of a Catholic Mass frequently marks official and public events. If the event is of a military nature, all members of the participating units may be obliged to attend. Membership in the Catholic Church is considered beneficial to a military career.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.


There are about eleven million Catholics - around 70% of the total population (16.500.000 in 2008). There are 5 archidioceses, 18 dioceses, 2 territorial prelatures, 1 apostolic vicariate, 1 military ordinariate and a personal prelature (Opus Dei).

Catholicism was introduced by priests with the Spanish colonialists in the 16th century. Most of the native population in the northern and central regions was evangelized by 1650. The southern area proved more difficult. In the 20th century, church expansion was impeded by a shortage of clergy and government attempts to control church administration. Relations between church and state were strained under Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet.


Protestants represent 15% of Chilean people. Protestants first arrived in the 1840s, with German immigrants which came from Protestant parts of Germany, mainly Lutherans, later came Anglicans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and other Protestant Christians.

First Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries first arrived in 1895 [ [ Adventist Atlas] ] , today there are estimated 126,814 Adventists in Chile.

Other religions

Jehovah's Witnesses make up 1% of the population. According to census data, 0.9% of the population is LDS, based upon those aged 15 and over who identify themselves as Mormon. The LDS web site reports that it has 543,628 members in Chile (3.3%), [ [ LDS membership statistics for Chile] ] counting everyone baptized, which includes children age eight or older as well as inactive members. Other minor religions include Judaism (0.1% of the population), Bahá'í Faith (0.04%), and Islam (0.02%). 8.3% are atheist or agnostic.

ee also

*Chilean mythology


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